Tim Parsons, Lake Tahoe Action

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May 31, 2012
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Stats make nationand#8217;s history, Sklars make them hilarious

INCLINE VILLAGE — What are the odds of being killed by a snake? Nearly infinitesimal.

Only five to six people in the United States die each year from a snake bite. And nearly all of the victims are men between the ages of 18 to 25, drunk and not in possession of a cellphone.

Knowledge of a statistic can render a fear irrational and change an opinion about wilderness travel. Of course, learning a statistic also can encourage new behavior such as, upon finding out the location of most household germs, spraying a television remote with bleach.

After a TV remote is cleaned and used to turn on a new History Channel program, “United Stats of America,” odds are folks will gain an interest in statistics. Aired at 10 p.m. Tuesdays, the show is presented by Randy and Jason Sklar, the identical twin comedy duo best known as the hosts of ESPN Classic’s “Cheap Seats.”

Snakes and, more specifically, the statistics about how people die, was the topic of the show’s debut episode earlier this month. The sports-minded Sklars used a basketball tournament format to explain what is most likely to kill Americans.

In an early bracket-buster, bee sting fatalities defeated spider bites.

“Even though a lot of people felt that they knew heart disease was probably going to win, like you do when you see Duke is in the NCAA Sweet 16, it’s fun to see the other matchups,” Jason Sklar told Lake Tahoe Action.

“We watched with a roomful of people,” Randy Sklar said, “and when the brackets came out everyone started shouting at the TV.”

Like a kitchen drain, the show can be infectious. It’s interesting, entertaining and humorous.

“We have countless ideas for more episodes, which always tells us it’s deep idea,” Jason Sklar said.

Lake Tahoe’s number-crunching guru David Antonucci, an author and engineer, and his wife are fans of the new program.

“She came in and sat down and was drawn in immediately,” Antonucci said. “Those guys are funny. They take an objective and scientific approach. They are very good at taking the numbers and explaining them in a way the average person can understand.”

Because the History Channel and its producers give the Sklars creative freedom, it’s natural to assume, as did Antonucci, the show’s premise came from the brothers. However, a network executive came up with the idea after finding out a Danish statistician’s video researching life expectancy and a nation’s wealth went viral with more than 11 million views on YouTube.

Left/Right Productions, best known for Showtime’s “This American Life,” was employed and a casting call was made for a host who could be make explaining statistics fun. After New York auditions were unsuccessful, the network tried out folks in Los Angeles. On the way to an audition, the head producer heard the Sklars synopsize the week in sports for National Public Radio listeners on their Thursday morning show. He sought out the twins, who used their sports knowledge in their audition.

“Sports fans can connect with why stats are important,” Randy Sklar said. “What’s the biggest scandal in recent sports history, (accused child molester Jerry) Sandusky aside? Steroids. Why is that such a problem for people? It’s because of the stats. Do Brady Anderson’s 50 home runs measure up with George Foster’s 52?”

Foster’s aforementioned statistic from 1977 was the only time in a 25-year span when a major leaguer hit 50 home runs. Anderson hit 50 during the steroid era from 1996-2007 when the milestone was reached 23 times.

“We’re obsessed with that kind of stuff and I think sports fans across the board enjoy it,” Sklar said. “And it’s part of why fantasy sports have taken off so much for people because you manage a team based on statistics. You win and lose based solely on stats. And people who don’t even like sports are suddenly drawn in through the fantasy portal and now they are into sports. There are men and women out there who don’t even know who Calvin Johnson plays for but you’ve got to get him high in the draft because he’ll get you lots of fantasy points.”

As they did on “Cheap Seats,” the Sklars use humor for the esoteric viewers, be it sports or pop culture, as well as for anyone with basic human instincts, such as a concern about being hit by a piece of space debris or a curiosity of why America went from having the world’s tallest citizens to being just the ninth tallest country. (Sadly, we’re No. 1 in fatness.)

“We try and say what would make us laugh and try and trust that,” Randy Sklar said. “We try and make things cryptic enough in terms of if it’s edgy, and if you watch the show with your kids, maybe it goes over their heads so it winds up being gotten on a few levels. Also we want to throw some jokes in there so you can watch the show a second time and see things you didn’t get the first time.”

“United Stats of America” so far has six episodes, with the fifth to be broadcast Tuesday. If it is deemed a success, another series of episodes will be produced.

“It’s a matter, in our opinion, of getting the word out, because people who are watching it are loving it,” Randy Sklar said.

277 — The amount of days with sunshine at Lake Tahoe.

16 — Number of feet of snowfall in a typical year.

11 — Lake Tahoe is the 11th deepest lake in the world. It’s deepest point is 1,645 feet.

14.5 — All of the water in Tahoe is enough to cover the state of California with 14.5 inches. Once dumped out of Tahoe, it would take 700 years of average winters to refill the lake.

63 — The number of its tributaries.

2.5 to 3 million — Years since the lake was formed.

99.994 — The percent of Lake Tahoe’s water purity.

30 — Number of acres on fire on any given day during summertime before the 1870s due to lightening strikes.

75.1 — An odometer after a drive around Lake Tahoe will read 71.8 miles, and most people round it off to 72 miles. However, there are 75.1 miles of Lake Tahoe shoreline. There are several points that jut into the lake which makes it shorter to travel by car. The greatest points are Emerald Bay, Sugar Pine Point, Dollar Point and Stateline point.

1844 — The year of the first documented sighting of Lake Tahoe by a Euro-American.

95 — The saddest statistic is that 95 percent of the trees in the basin were logged in the late 1800s. The only areas spared were privately owned parcels. Some old growth trees can be found at D.L BLiss State Pars, the Tallac Historic Site and at Homewood’s lakeshore.

1915 — The year Lake Tahoe’s dam was built. Water was stored to build farms and ranches in Nevada.

0 — Amount of beaches between Sand Harbor and Thurnderbird’s Sandy Point before 1861. Tahoe’s beaches were formed from the outlets and streams that brought sediment. After the dam was built the lake began to erode back to the shore line and created beaches that hadn’t existed.

600,000 — The projected peak population — full- and part-time residents and visitors — in 2010 for the Lake Tahoe Basin if all of the Lake Tahoe Area Council’s allowable development had occurred. That agency was removed after the 1969 formation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. In 2010 the peak population was 325,000.

Unknown — How many times Charles Barkley has had a triple bogey or worse at the annual celebrity golf tournament at Tahoe Edgewood Golf Course. A few summers ago the tourney adopted the Stableford scoring system, which renders the number of Sir Charles’ hacks over the years incalculable.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated May 31, 2012 03:31PM Published May 31, 2012 03:28PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.